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Happy Under the Umbrellas in Shao Xing

The woman in the seat behind me on the train has taken off her mock-patent leather high heels and slipped into a much more comfortable pair of gigantic plush Minnie Mouse slippers for the two hour journey from Shanghai to Shao Xing, home to famous rice wine. She’s looking forward to having two days off to relax and enjoy herself, starting now with her slippers. I love leaving Shanghai for the weekend too, to see somewhere new. I love pulling up at Shanghai South Railway Station on a Friday afternoon, jostling through the weekend crowds to get to the waiting room, and then the mad pushing, shoving rush on to the train, despite all of us having pre-assigned seats.
When we arrive in Shao Xing, it’s raining. Hard. Typhoon Megi is off the coast far, far away and so we’re in for a wet, wet weekend. Shao Xing is an ancient trading town with a network of water canals and flagstone streets, and with the atmosphere of a big village despite its population being similar to Sydney. 
Today, as we wander the narrow canal-side lanes in the wet, I see a rainbow procession of dripping umbrellas everywhere I look, and below each umbrella is a happy red face. When Chinese people visit a new place they always try the local specialties, be it hairy crabs or ginger candies or mountain tea. In Shao Xing the local specialty is the rice wine, mellow, smooth and warming; so even tee-totallers may decide to have a glass at one of the many wineshops as they enjoy the local ambience. The wine shops are filled with enormous stone pitchers of aged wine, and shelf after shelf of small decorative bottles in fancy boxes, for gifts. When Chinese people drink wine it tends to turn their faces red, and so the town is filled with cheery, flushed tourists all having a great time. Even though it’s pouring and we’re all drenched, we’re happy. I like a town dedicated to enjoying yourself.

Lunch with Kate Lamont, M on the Bund

Kate Lamont, Western Australian restauranteur and winemaker, spoke at M on the Bund today of going beyond simple wine-matching in restaurants, and advocated choosing a wine before cooking food at home, matching seasonings and cooking techniques to further enhance the food-wine pairing. 

As an example, she contrasted the way one might cook a piece of chicken depending on whether there was a sauvignon blanc or a shiraz in the cupboard. For the former, it might be poached chicken with a mango and lime salsa, and for the latter, a slow roast with roasted garlic, tomatoes, herbs and potatoes. Very thought provoking and completely different to how I currently cook – for me it’s usually a matter of deciding on a particular dish, then scouring the wine cupboard for what might be OK to drink with it, and often finding the answer is ‘nothing much’ or ‘gin and tonic.’

M on the Bund came to the party with a fabulous 3 course lunch and Wolf Blass wines (what a shame they weren’t West Australian wines, thought many of us….). We started with a summer soup of peas and mint, followed by tender grilled snapper served with shaved fennel, sumac and lemon. Lastly a fool of summer berries, with rich, ripe raspberries and blueberries nestled in the creamy fool.

Inspired by Kate’s approach, I visited The Lady on Wulumuqi Lu on the way home for some pinenuts and Italian parsley and dragged a bottle of New Zealand Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Gris from the cupboard (thanks go to Martel who brought it in her luggage all the way from NZ a few months ago). I remembered the pinot gris was still lurking there for a special occasion, and I thought it would pair nicely with chicken breasts if I cooked them with vino cotto, currants, and a salad of Italian parsley and rocket topped with toasted pine nuts and parmesan, bringing out the lovely pear, peach and toasty honey flavours of the wine.  

It did. It was bloody delicious. Thanks Kate! 

Tobin Wines, Ballandean

This is Adrian Tobin, proprietor of Tobin Wines, Ballandean. I’m not at all biased (he did name two of his wines after my children) but his wines are the best you’ll find in Queensland. He really believes in the concept of terroir, the micro-climate that produces wines of great quality that reflect the granite soil, the rainfall, the hours of sunshine and the cold winter frosts particular to this part of the world. 
His cabernet is particularly wonderful with aromas of violets and rose petals, with blackberry, cherry plum and dark chocolate on the palate. He’s also become well known for his tempranillo and verdelho, both of which have won awards and are highly regarded by Australian wine writers.  Adrian always impresses me with his passion and knowledge and the vineyard is so enjoyable to walk through – a testament to his hard work and dedication to producing the best possible fruit in order to make highly individual wines. 
The intense blue winter sky looks over gnarled eighty year old shiraz vines, and neat rows of semillon and chardonnay grapes, all surrounded by a dry-stone wall pieced together stone by stone from the local pink granite. Inside the cellar door the pot belly stove is burning away, adding a faint aroma of woodsmoke to the warm smell of wine and oak inside. It’s a nice way to while away a cold afternoon, sipping, tasting, learning, enjoying. I realise how much I’ve really missed good Australain wines in Shanghai, from small wineries like this one, that just taste of the coutryside they came from.

You can find further information about Tobin Wines here.